Ancient Monuments

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Cross Kirk, Breckon, runic inscription

A Scheduled Monument in Shetland North, Shetland Islands

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Latitude: 60.4854 / 60°29'7"N

Longitude: -1.6151 / 1°36'54"W

OS Eastings: 421251

OS Northings: 1178028

OS Grid: HU212780

Mapcode National: GBR Q1C0.W4K

Mapcode Global: XHD1G.CQ33

Entry Name: Cross Kirk, Breckon, runic inscription

Scheduled Date: 9 October 2001

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM9739

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Crosses and carved stones: inscribed stone

Location: Northmaven

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: Shetland North

Traditional County: Shetland


The monument comprises an inscribed gravestone of medieval date.

The monument lies in Plot No.87 within Cross Kirk graveyard, Eshaness. It is situated at the foot of the headstone marking the grave of John Williamson of Hamnavoe (otherwise known as Johnny Notions) dating to 1803. The inscribed slab is of sandstone and has maximum dimensions of 1.53m long by 0.61m wide. As the stone is earthfast its thickness is not known.

Low's account (1879) indicated that roughly 25 characters are portrayed, some Roman, some Runic, running around the top (square) end of the stone and enclosed by a framing line. This was confirmed by the recent surveys which also indicated the inscriptions extend round three sides of the stone: only the bottom edge of the stone is without written characters and its marked unevenness here may indicate a breakage. Unfortunately the surface of the stone has weathered so badly that only a small number of characters can now be read.

The remaining Roman and Runic characters testify to a carefully executed carving. The Roman letters, where appropriate, have serifs and are neatly rounded. An evenly incised framing line divides the text from the centre panel, with a possible second framing line also indicated. The centre panel shows the remains of decorations: three conjoined semi-circles adorn the top end, covering the whole width of the panel between the inner framing on either side. The heights of individual runes cannot be measured precisely since none appears to be complete. The tallest is roughly 5cm. Some nineteen Roman letters are now partly or wholly visible, and Low's drawing indicates a further six. The Roman letters are clearly Lombardic, but are not, as far as can be seen, of the most decorative type.

All that can be read with confidence from the Runic inscription comprises 'pennna stein' meaning 'this stone..' and a possible reference to 'Ninian' or more likely 'son'. Thus the Runic inscription appears to give information about the monument: the persons who commissioned it seem likely to have been mentioned, as well as the deceased and something of his/her life and/or death.

Regarding the Roman inscription it is unclear whether it represents Latin, or a mixture of Latin and Norse. What can be deciphered appears to read 'pray for' and 'soul' followed by a possible abbreviation for 'Jesus'. The final six letters of the inscription appear to signify 'pater noster'. The Roman inscription appears therefore, to consist of injunctions to pray, and possibly an invocation to Jesus.

The layout of the Runic and Roman inscriptions appears to suggest that the two inscriptions are contemporary, and a number of factors (none of them conclusive) combine to suggest a mid 13th-14th Century date. Typologically the monument corresponds with the pattern of graveslabs of 12th-16th Century.

The area proposed for scheduling comprises the stone and the area immediately around it, excluding the modern memorial to 'Johnnie Notions'. It is rectangular, measuring 3.5m E-W by 2.5m N-S, as marked in red on the accompanying map extract.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

The monument is of national importance because of its potential to contribute to an understanding of medieval Shetland and post-Viking Shetland/Scandinavian contact. The monuments importance is enhanced by its rarity (it is the longest Old Norse runic inscription in the British Isles and possibly the entire North Atlantic region), by its vulnerability and by associated early documentary evidence.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland




Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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